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3 February, 2012

An Election for Blood

President Nursultan Nazarbayev called a snap parliamentary election to show to the entire world and his subordinates that the country is moving from authoritarianism to democracy

Kazakhstan recently held elections to its Majilis, the lower house of its parliament, and maslikhats (local councils). The turnout is of no importance, because under Kazakh laws, elections are always valid. Furthermore, no "against all" candidate option was on the ballot.

There are no parties as such in Kazakhstan’s political arena. Nor do they exist in their classical form, i.e., as political organizations that share and embody the ideas and demands of certain groups of citizens. All current Kazakh parties are interest clubs: a party of one person's ambitions, a party of alleged patriots, a party of apparent communists, etc.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev called a snap parliamentary election to show to the entire world and his subordinates that the country is moving from authoritarianism to democracy. The Majilis will now have, naturally, his Nur Otan Party (80.99% of votes), which was the only party represented in parliament until now, and two more which are not opposition parties but, in essence, pro-government “puppet” forces (Ak Zhol and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, with 7% of the vote each). Their dream and desire is to elbow their way to power and rule the country under the guidance of the unchallenged Nazarbayev. Sometimes they criticize the actions of specific officials or the government but never say a word against the president himself — only praise.

This past election, however, involved a surprise. A boycott was staged and was perhaps for the first time quite successful. According to agencies that watched the process, less than 40% of voters came to polling stations in Astana and Almaty and 50-60% in other cities. But the turnout in cities was in fact always less than 50%, and the government took great pains to conceal this fact after every election. In other words, around 20% fewer people showed up at polling stations than was officially declared. This true boycott by the advanced part of our civil society was a way to show that no political force permitted to participate in the election was a real alternative to Nazarbaev’s policies.

Auls traditionally posted a higher turnout rate, because people there are closely watched by bosses on which they are very much dependent in terms of opportunities, jobs and simply safety. In my own experience, I was in a village where medical workers, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me they had been ordered to come to the polling station early in the morning led by a doctor and openly vote for the Nur Otan Party or risk losing their jobs. Personally, I boycotted the election as a matter of principle, but an invitation was delivered for my daughter to come and vote. She is a citizen of the USA, not Kazakhstan, and has been living in the United States for 10 years now. I know that they send invitations like that to all people who have left the country. Naturally, these people do not show up, and then someone else secretly votes in their place. Many of my compatriots see it as a repugnant show.

Speaking of the boycott, I would like to emphasize that some candidates withdrew from the parliamentary race in protest. A number of candidates on the regional level, who fought for seats in maslikhat, demonstratively followed suit. Their decision was a reaction to the shooting of peaceful citizens in Janaozen and at the nearby Shepte train station. They believe that it was immoral to participate in the election after what had happened and that this election is, in essence, based on blood and cannot be fair. Moreover, a sizable part of the population is beginning to grasp that the Nazarbaev government not only tells people lies but also keeps them on a short leash and is capable of resorting to violence or even bloodshed if necessary.

Interestingly, Vladimir Churov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, was invited to observe the Kazakh election. From the viewpoint of those who run the election in Kazakhstan, he is evidently a super-positive character and a hero who made the rigged election in Russia go off without a hitch. His invitation makes sense in this context: they invited a person who is using the same principles as they are.

The Kazakh government has been shamelessly falsifying every election without exception for 20 years now. The opposition understands this, but considering its constructive character, I believe that unfortunately we will not see protests in Kazakhstan now. Society and the middle class are not yet mature enough. And even if protests do take place, 100-200 activists of civic movements and the truly opposition parties that were not allowed to participate in the election will come out into the streets and that will be it.

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